The chocolate shop chain Kilwins just so happens to be headquartered in Petoskey! And they offer free tours!
The main shop is just off the bicycle path and we tried to tour during our 4th of July bike ride, but alas, the tours were cancelled that day. We attempted to go that weekend but alas, no tours on the weekend. (Obviously we weren’t attentive to their tour sign OR the website.). The third time being the proverbial charm, we finally made it on a proper day and time to take advantage of this feature.
Kilwins has 113 locations in 23 States, so I had seen it around before, but had never been inside a shop to the best of my recollection. Each Kilwins location makes certain things in-house: fudge, caramel apples, caramel corn, brittles and such. But other items such as marshmallow candies, tuttles (their version of turtles), enrobed and molded chocolates – are only made in their Petoskey shop and shipped to their franchisees.
The “factory” area is surprisingly modest, considering how many stores they supply. We grouped at the appointed hour and listened to a brief overview of the franchise history and products. We then donned very attractive disposable hair covers (Jeff got a bonus beard cover) and shoe covers before heading through the magic doors.
This is a high-end, small batch, manually-produced product line. That’s why it’s pricey! But it was fascinating to see brownish gel get cooked up and then whipped up onto snowy white marshmallow gooiness. Poured into a large tabletop mold and allowed to cool, it is then coated with powdered sugar and manually cut/packed. Farther along, we watched two long chocolate enrobing machines (one each for dark and milk chocolate) coating various centers with chocolaty goodness.
Upstream of the enrobing machines is where the magic happens — fair trade high quality cacao nibs are massaged, married with sugar and cream, and processed into liquid chocolate in a continuous flow process. Pumps and pipes carry it overhead to the enrobing machines. Two taps allowed our guide to extract samples of each type of chocolate (milk and dark) and skillfully dipped out spoonfuls for each of us. There’s something about the silky-smoothness of just-right-temperature melted chocolate that’s just over-the-top good. Mmmmmmmm. I felt a bit like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and wanted to dive into a pool of the stuff! Oh. My. Goodness.
Side note: One of the guests asked our tour guide how long it took before he didn’t eat the chocolate anymore. He said one month …. and hasn’t had chocolate for over a year! Working around it so much, he’s not even tempted a bit to sample any. I guess even a good thing can be over dosed.
At the conclusion of our tour, we were given a tuttle sample and a coupon for 20% off, which of course we promptly used. The candy IS pricey, but nice for a splurge – once in a while.